I was blessed to meet an elder generation of lacemakers—tejedoras or mundillistas–, before they passed on. I met many amazing people when I was involved with field research for my project, thanks to happening upon Ada Hernandez Vale in Jaime Babilonia’s Farmacia in the Plaza, the heart of Barrio Pueblo, Moca.
Ada was carrying her chihuahua, Trompito, and in Spanish asked me if I was looking for mundillo, which is handmade Puerto Rican bobbin lace. Actually, I was there following a burning genealogical mystery about some of the Babilonias in Barrio Pueblo, but her question stunned me. No, I answered, and added, I didn’t know what it was. She shot back, “how can you not know about mundillo if you’re from here? Come to my house, I’ll show you.”
My husband Tom and I walked a couple of blocks to her home just off the plaza. Over the next three hours, Ada proceeded to haul out work that i’ve never seen before. “This is mundillo, and my brother Mokay is opening a museum. I want you to meet him.” As with other families in Moca, members of the Hernandez Vale family were long involved in mundillo thanks to their mother, Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991), as makers of telars, as lacemakers and brokers of encaje puertorriqueno. This led to Mokay (Benito) Hernandez Vale’s establishing el Museo del Mundillo on Calle Barbosa thanks to the support and efforts of a group of lacemakers who shared this vision.
Researching in Moca
This is how my research began, a series of projects that tie together origins, trade networks, slavery and family histories. While this research culminated in a book chapter, “Mundillo and Identity” in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles (2009), there’s more left to do.
Mundillo is important, as the women who worked in the pueblo had a network of production and community that maintained relationships within and without the island. They produced lace that connected the sacred to the secular, that marked rites of passage through delicate edging and decoration that spanned generations.
Ser tejedora – to be a lacemaker was a skill set that held so many social and historical connections. The activity is visible in the 1910 Federal census and then spreads by subsequent census as young women learn the skill in school and from each other as the Industria de la Aguja begins to swell. Puerto Rico was the first maquiladora, and the history of mundillo falls on the edge of that history.
Literature on mundillo
The first book on the history of mundillo is by Augusto Hernandez Mendez (QEPD), Historia y desarrollo del mundillo mocano. (Moca, 1993). He was an educator and administrator involved with literacy, and cultural celebrations, amplifying the efforts of many. What’s great about his book are Capitulo VI and VII, which covers the artisans who serve as ambassadors of the craft, and the artisans involved with producing the tools, patterns and lace in Moca. The mini-biography of each person is accompanied by a photograph.
The second book is Antonio Nieves Mendez, ed. La industria del mundillo en la zona urbana de Moca: Reconocimiento general de las propiedades de la zona urbana de Moca asociada con el produccion del mundillo. (2011, Lulu.com) The study maps out the dissemination of mundillo within the town from 1885-1930. These books are incredible genealogical resources if you happen to have family from Moca, because of the focus on women artisans and teachers.
My contribution to this literature is “Mundillo and Identity: The Revival and Transformation of Handmade Lace in Puerto Rico” in Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin’s Women and the Material Culture of Needlework. (Ashgate 2009) This chapter on the development of mundillo provides a larger historical perspective. By tracing the practice as global one, it shows mundillo’s spread on the island was tied to school training in the 1930s. This left mundillo as an adjunct to the activity of the Industria de la aguja, the Garment Industry, which provided piecework to thousands of women across the island.
Las Tejedoras: Algunas artesanas de Moca
Olga Hernandez Rivera stands among the expert tejedoras of Moca. Her husband is a artisan in wood, who makes a range of elegant telars, the base for working lace with bollillos. With roots in barrios Cerro Gordo and Centro, Olga has lived in Barrio Cuchillas for decades with her family. When I visited Moca some years ago, Olga introduced me to other mundillistas and showed examples of her work. She told me about one of her teachers, Andrea Lopez Rivera (1928-2003), who did much to teach mundillo to women in Moca through the Servicio Extension Agricola.
The death of Virginia Rodriguez Arocho brought the tejedoras in the community connected to el Museo de Mundillo out in remembrance of her at her wake. Nelly Vera Sanchez is among the lacemakers recognized by major cultural organizations and was named a National Heritage Fellow by the Endowment for the Humanities in 2021. Yolanda Romero Aviles is an accomplished tejedora, Among the items that she creates are lace covers that edge the lower sleeves of judicial robes. These areas of mundillo add contrast and do not detract from the robe as a symbol of the court. By wearing mundillo, one communicates knowledge of local tradition and cultural pride. Romero Aviles’ sleeve covers are extensive– about 6″ in width. Her works feature advanced techniques in bobbin lace to create a ground interspersed with floral and abstract motifs.
Magda Rivera kindly showed me her shop, which features a memorial to her mother, the tejedora Julia Bosques Torres (1911-1992), who learned to make lace at age 8. In 1940, she established a shop in her home for buying and selling lace and other items that she ran until her death. (Hernandez Mendez, p108)
Maria C. Guadalupe made lengths of lace along with a range of amazing small gifts to children and adult’s clothing. These works are embellished with edgings and panels of mundillo and delicate embroidery, as in this dress below:
Although there were a number of women who practiced mundillo in Moca, a smaller number achieved fame for their work and their shops, as did Dona Maria Lasalle (1914-1913). The mundillo she is working on is an old model that predates foam– that narrowing of the center of the upper armature happens with the banana leaf stuffing of earlier years. Still it holds its complex pattern using dozens of bollilos (bobbins).
She was married to Rito Vargas Gonzalez, a carpenter, furniture maker and friend to my grandfather, Alcides Babilonia Lopez, together they kept the tradition of el Velorio de los Reyes celebrated in Barrio Pueblo still held today. Their son Rito Vargas Lasalle continues to promote their memory.
There’s much to the history of mundillo, and I am fascinated by how it interconnects its practitioners, its exhibitors and its wearers. Looking forward to sharing more about people connected to mundillo.
What are the origins of the Ubiles families of Barrio Mabu, Humacao? This post is part of a larger project that explores the lives of ancestors who lived centuries before in Northeast Puerto Rico. As a genealogist, this was an opportunity to delve into the ancestry of Marie Ubiles, and share more about what documents hold about her ancestors, Juan Lorenzo Ubides Rodriguez and Petrona de la Cruz Amaro. First I needed to explore who were among those who held the surname during the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century in Northwest Puerto Rico. Here is the first chapter of the project.
The locations for the Ubiles family clusters extend across the Northeast by the early eighteenth century.
In Puerto Rico, the surname Ubiles begins with Capt. Miguel Joseph de Ubides y Espinosa, born in 1699 in Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz. Son of Juan de Ubides and Ysabel Calderon, it is unclear as to whether his parents came to the island at all. Miguel de Ubides was once a partner and then an enemy of Capitan Miguel Enriquez, the privateer who rapidly ascended San Juan’s social caste, only to be turned upon later. Both Enriquez and Ubides’ were enslavers and slave traders, and here lies the origin of the Ubides of color. Over time, the spelling of those once enslaved changed.
Capt. Miguel de Ubides married Cecilia Sanchez Araujo on 8 July 1720 in the Cathedral de San Juan, and they had at least four children. One reached adulthood, Juan Manuel Ubides Araujo born in July 17341. Unlike many dwellers of the time in San Juan, Ubides lived in a two-story building. It was described by historian Angel Lopez Cantos, and based on a July 1725 inventory of de Ubides’ embargoed property:
Y la casa de fiel ejecutor del cabildo de San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, tambien era de dos plantas. En la anterior había una ‘sala’ que ocupaban mitad del espacio y la otra un ‘aposento’ y una ‘despensa’. Abajo solo había un habitación que servia de tienda y el postal. El hueco de la escalera lo habían tapiado y hacia las veces de ‘almacén2’.
And the home of the faithful executor of the cabildo of San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, was of two floors. In the rear was a large hall that took up half the space, another chamber and a pantry. Below there was a bedroom that served as a store and the post office. The space underneath the stairs was closed off and at times, served as a warehouse.
This lends an idea of the kinds of property and labor that de Ubides used in his business—there would be a need for domestics, cooks, storekeeper, clerk, and porters, all roles that could be done with enslaved workers. This knowledge also represented a route to freedom in early San Juan, if one were able to arrange buying it. To know these aspects of how to run a business oneself meant one could openly support their own families once out of bondage.
The sixteenth – seventeenth centuries were a time of smuggling in the Caribbean, as Spain paid more attention to the development of silver mining in the Yucatan and its other colonies. As a result, Puerto Rico was a hotbed of smuggling activity that connected merchants to Curacao, Venezuela and other islands . The ships and cargoes taken as prizes by Spanish and Spanish American merchants were sold in the British West Indies. [See Cromwell 2018]
Miguel de Ubides was involved with Captain Miguel Enriquez, the privateer hired by the Spanish government. Eventually, Enriquez was turned against by the elite of San Juan, disturbed by his rapid social climb and business expansion. Another reason they resented him was that Enriquez was the grandchild of an enslaved woman from Angola, and in a world where the proximity to Europe was paramount, he did not fit in. de Ubides was among those who pitted themselves against Enriquez, and he also suffered the embargo of his property not long after. The larger question is how much of their business was involved with the slave trade. Lopez Cantos suggests that Enriquez’ holdings numbered over 200, including those enslaved who worked plantations. There is only a trace of people held by de Ubides and Enriquez in surviving parish records.
Enslaved Persons Held by Miguel de Ubides
The earliest mention of enslaved Ubides is in the pages of the extant books for Nuestra Senora de los Remedios in Viejo San Juan.
This July 1748 baptism for “Maria Antonia, hija de Antonia, morena esclava de Dn. Miguel de Ubides. Padrino, Joseph Manuel Carrillo3” is among the few documents for the enslaved persons held by Ubides. Antonia’s age is not noted, and she may be anywhere between 12 to 45 years of age, probably born in Puerto Rico.
Maria, a Black woman enslaved by Miguel de Ubides in 1738 gave birth to Joseph, who was baptized on 26 October 1738, and Manuel de Jesus served as his godparent. This entry illustrates how ‘new property’ was registered through parish records. Additional documentation for Maria and Joseph may no longer be extant.
When Joseph Antonio, a formerly enslaved man from St Thomas was baptized on 17 January 1739, Dn. Miguel de Ubides served as his godfather5. Joseph Antonio, a freedman, was baptized together with Antonia, an enslaved woman held by Capitan Andres Antonio. Joseph Antonio’s conversion to Catholicism was an assurance to the Spanish crown of his loyalty . What is unusual in this record is that two men brought two persons to be baptized, one who liberated himself from a British colony and the other, an enslaved woman. Why the double baptism? Were they a couple? There is no additional information to go on. Apparently, Joseph Antonio took the surname of his padrino after 1739- and is the same Joseph Antonio Ubides who dies in May 1770, married to Ana Lerey.
Several people of African descent carried the de Ubides surname in early-mid eighteenth century San Juan. As documentation is scarce, there is evidence of them in parish records. There are several clusters of this surname with a connection by name or association.
How many enslaved persons were held by Capt. Miguel de Ubides is unknown. Given that his property (like Enriquez) was impounded, an inventory was made of his holdings. It is possible that enslaved people appear on these pages, either as a numeric count, or perhaps, a named list. Protocolos from this time period for San Juan are unfortunately, not extant.
If you’re from one of the Ubiles family communities, I hope you’ll share your story.
5. Joseph Antonio, Acta de Bautismo 1739″Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969″, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6DBL-YF8Z : 15 December 2021), Joseph Antonio Miguel de Ubides in entry for MM9.1.1/6DBL-YF8C:, 1739.
6. Did Joseph Antonio Ubides serve in the military, as many free Black men did in Cangrejos? See: David M Stark, “Rescued from their Invisibility: The Afro-Puerto Ricans of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century San Mateo de Cangrejos, Puerto Rico.” The Americas 63:4 (Apr 2007), 551-586.
There is no one place or time when diaspora occurs…it is a perpetual space of change and displacement. An awareness. It’s a process I share with many, whether by blood, place or experience, with locations linked by oceans and shaped by the relentless squeeze for money and power.
How we understand this process has a lot to do with the narratives fed to us as children. Here’s a memorable text whose social cues seemed sketchy to me in grade school.
As a child in the early 1960s, the most confusing book I’ve ever encountered was an assigned second grade reader by Mabel O’Donnell, entitled Friendly Village. I was switched into second grade mid-year, since I read at a 6 grade level thanks to my mom.
Nothing in the book seemed to jive with what I knew of the world in the south Bronx. For us, landscape vistas were restricted to a small outcropping of glacial rocks, some maple trees and wildlife— pigeons and the large rats in St Ann Park, all four city blocks of it.
Where we lived then was composed of blocks of tenements built at least a half century before my birth, dark narrow buildings whose stoops and entrances varied slightly from structure to structure — brick fronts, embellished by fire escapes above the street, each four to five floors tall, with four apartments to a floor. These buildings loomed before my small frame.
Buildings of memory
Most tenements were built in the first years of the 1900s, the metal ironwork that once flanked the stairs collected in the 1940s for the war effort. This left most buildings with a bare stoop in front.
Air shafts, then a recent innovation in 1900, defined the view in our apartment. from one window, one saw sets of white framed glass portals to other living spaces, surrounded by brick and crossed by laundry lines. Down below was the small concrete footprint of the space. Then, from early spring to late fall, these were full of bed sheets and tablecloths, shirts and underwear put out to dry. We never made any experiments to test gravity or my parents patience.
Tenements on Fox Street
To my small body, this tenement and neighborhood that surrounded it on Fox Street it all seemed like an enormous urban site, full of adults and rooms with a million different stories. Manhattan was even bigger.
Once inside, to reach our apartment, everyone made their way over white stone steps, climbing while holding on to a painted rail, inset into the top of cast iron balusters. The rail was coated in layers of thick enamel paint applied over many years. This smooth yet pebbled texture melted on the surface of the rail that linked the building’s floors and landings.
Each step was made of pale, white-gray marble or soapstone, worn down at the center, a saggy appearance that testified to the movement of thousands of footsteps over its surfaces, a bit worn away with each step.
Every floor held a set of relationships, that ranged from the legal to inappropriate. parents, newborns, lovers, strangers who left traces on the pages of the 1920-1950 census. My paternal grandparents lived in another tenement nearby, finally being able to settle down after the multiple moves during the Great Depression, heralded by the birth of my father.
Tenements were never part of the landscape of Friendly Village, and Alice and Jerry never went to such places, nor did they go to play in the trash strewn spaces behind them. The South Bronx was different then. The entrances of the buildings on each grey and grimy block had stoops once bordered with ironwork. This was removed, molten down for the WW2 effort, and never replaced, leaving large holes and orphaned bolts that told of phantom parts. The now plain steps lead to the doors, some of them arching over the entryway to a basement workshop or apartment and storage rooms that ran along the length of the building.
On the corner, it seemed a sizeable amount of steel escaped the wartime scrap heap and was a featured element of the commercial space of the corner newsstand. The store sat atop a metal sidewalk, raised about 3-4 inches off the concrete, its surface pierced with small round glass disks trapped in the metal pentagonal grids, to provide light for a mysterious space underground. This dark, almost green black metal surface surrounded the store, and clanged as one stepped up and walked on it, its own alert system that let the owner know a customer approached.
The newstand rack was itself an accomplished bit of welded heavy steel plate with supports for shelves that held several daily and weekly newspapers just outside of its tiny space. inside the actual store was cramped and crowded with racks of magazines on its walls, comic books, boxes of cigarettes and chewing gum. Just enough space for one clerk to sit behind the counter, next to a heater in winter and a small fan in summer.
Gum of gums
On the small counter next to the cash register, sat an open box of Bazooka gum for sale. For our two cents, we bought a piece of gum named for a rocket launcher, the brand name Bazooka revealing the proximity of recent wars to the lives of children who bought them, from World War 2 to Korea, and afterwards Vietnam. These small packets were extremely firm (the staler, the harder) a segment of sugary pink chewing gum with an indented line down the middle for sharing or apportioning. It made a dentist visit much more likely.
Its dusted sugar surface was bound by a folded Bazooka Joe comic in 3 colors, that to our young eyes featured seemingly adult men exchanging pointless, corny lines in several tiny frames on a small sheet of shiny waxed paper. This gift arrived under a larger red and white wax paper wrapper w diagonal lettering that announced ‘Bazooka’.
It took work to chew. it was a product that simultaneously allowed one to both blow bubbles and to dissolve one’s tooth enamel. If the gum was stale, masticating took twice as long to coax it into a bubble and create annoying, cracking noises.
Bazooka was a different than Crawford’s Breath Gum, lovely purple pieces in a flat silver cardboard box with scrolling black letters. My mother loved them and almost always had a box in her handbag. Later we went for sticks of gum, peppermint but never spearmint. We left Bazooka behind.
At school or near these institutions, we noticed that the uses of gum extended to cheerful decoration, witnessed on the undersides of chairs and desks or on the lengths of telephone poles that became colorful, textured repositories of various brands, processed by teeth of children and teenagers. Such sites were only to be augmented with one’s own bit of masticated gum, and not to be touched by fingers.
Return to the Friendly Village
But back to the Friendly Village, a book that only sowed more confusion as I read its pages. It featured puzzling details– Fathers who wore glasses, a suit and tie and carried a briefcase. I knew no one like that. My dad worked first as a baggage handler on the railroad and next for the Metropolitan Transit Authority when he finally passed the test for the MTA in ventilation and drainage. When we were little we only knew he was somewhere in the bowels of NYC, traversing endless miles of tunnels and small rooms crammed with the equipment that made it possible to see and breathe on the subway. He worked two jobs at one point, so he was hardly at home.
My grandparents lived just a few blocks away, my grandfather drove taxis or school buses for work and could barely read a newspaper. This was probably because of dyslexia, which added another layer of difficulty to everything he navigated stateside. He had a tremendous memory though for numbers and memorized lists of Bolita digits, no paper to find. My mother worked in various factories in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1940s to 1950s before she had us, and she was 14 when she got her first job.
As jarring a read as the Friendly Village was, there was no village, no cows and no farmers in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. instead, a steadily growing number of Puerto Ricans were packing a landscape created at least a half century before, at the turn of the century just after the Spanish American War.
We lived in a walk up apartment and there were no thatched roof houses anywhere nearby. The population of the Friendly Village was white and British, with pedigree dogs unlike the mutts that roamed our neighborhood in ragged packs.
Actually, we were the ones the locals feared, the Puerto Ricans born on the island and stateside, who occupied more and more apartments as the neighborhood aged and its former Jewish and Slavic inhabitants escaped to the suburbs. The book left me wondering about places like England, and what seems a high probability of being run out of a village if my family actually showed up there.
To School, PS 25
Each morning as my mother walked us to elementary school we were careful to step over the legs of the two young men of color, both junkies with their backs propped up against a building. As we walked, I stared at the thin stream of urine that led from between their legs down the sidewalk, over the edge of the milled stone curb and into the gutter. Occupied with their high, they failed to notice the proximity of the yellow water that stained their pants as it streamed out of them; neither did they acknowledge seeing us walk past. They didn’t go to school, nor did they appear in any school reader.
Fox Street became rougher by the year. When a man was shot in the head just doors away on the block, my father decided that was enough. He began searching for a house in another location, in Hollis, in the very distant and exotic borough of Queens.
We left the Bronx and the pages of The Friendly Village proved little help for understanding why I was called a Spic by whites fearful of our kind, nor of the girls who dropped an open container of milk on me on the stairs on Assembly Day, or those who decided to fight me in a group in the schoolyard. I was a white presenting skinny kid, a product of diaspora, settler colonialism & slavery, searching for a definition of self in books that didn’t acknowledge our blended existence. I kept reading.
Dick and Jane, the ideal white boy and girl featured in the reader’s pages taught me nothing about how the world worked, nor of the working class, or of the many peoples caught in the flows of diaspora that made up the city of New York in the early 1960s.
Today we make our own villages, those safe spaces where we can reveal our fullest selves to survive and share our journey as best we can. It’s remarkable how one group’s joy can be rejected, but they can’t steal it. Brook Park, a place I visited in my childhood, is now the site where my Iukayeke holds its solstice ceremonies, and I connect, via technology.
We are still here.
Long gone, the buildings and streets of Mott Haven come back vividly in memory, places where my ancestors once tread as they made their way through the cycle of life.
Two decades ago, I was in the Special Collections of U InterAmericana looking at their Herman Reichard Collection, where I photographed historian Eduardo Neumann Gandia’sResena historica sobre la fundacion y crecimiento del municipio de Moca of 1910. Despite the homemade cover, this was one publication of at least two tracts by Neumann Gandia that served to circulate a brief history of a municipality.
Eduardo Neumann Gandia (1852-1913)
It’s a brief 11 pages, taken from a larger work as can be seen from the numbered pages 79-90. There’s no mention of what the original text was. Nor do can we tell the entire volume was by a single author, or if it was a collection that includes multiple municipalities. He published his two volumes of Benefactores y hombres notables de Puerto-Rico: bocetos biográficos-críticos con un estudio sobre nuestros gobernadores generales, in 1896 and 1899, which contained mini-biographies of figures in government and business.
Herman Reichard Esteves (1910-2005), who preserved this pamphlet and other archival materials, was a librarian and professor based in Aguadilla. He was an avid genealogist whose work continues to inform many today, and which Dra. Haydee Reichard is making available through the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico ADNPR.net. I made photographs of Neumann Gandia’s work, and (over 110 years later) ran it through an OCR program to make a PDF from the images.
You can download the pamphlet from the link at the bottom of the page.
1972: Historia de Moca 1772-1972
This text was the basis for the 1972 bicentennial publication, Historia de Moca 1772-1972, produced by Sociedad Civico-Cultural Pro-Conmemoracion del Bicentenario de Moca, Inc. Published by the Dept de Instruccion Publica, Estado Libre Associado de Puerto Rico, both organizations spoke to a particular moment of identification on local and state level, and a recognition of a shared history that extends to the eighteenth century.
There is no mention of the fact that Moca is an indigenous name, nor of any survival in these pages. Additional information builds out Neumann Gandia’s brief history and benefits from photographs of the location and personages, as for the biography of the educator Adolfo Emeterio Babilonia Quinones (1841-1884). He married into the Yturrino family, whom i’ve written of in a previous post.
Cover, Historia de Moca 1772-1972. Edición bicentenario. Collection of the author.
Cultural Memory, ancestors & what gets overlooked…
The purpose of Neumann Gandia’s text and its later iterations was on the importance of a cultural memory. These local histories can be crucial for creating the microhistories of our ancestors on different parts of the island. This is not the same as a building a romanticized story of the past. Instead the intent is to write to reflect the struggle to live, have families or not, to stay or to go, to become part of groups that yielded forms of support, or produced a variety of creative expressions.
The 1972 book devoted two pages to mentions of enslavement: La Esclavitud Negra:(breves anotaciones) en Moca. There are a couple of paragraphs detailing the presence of enslaved people in Moca since its founding. Quoted is the 1945 interview by Luis M. Diaz Soler in Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico. This excerpt acknowledges the experiences of Leoncia Lasalle and her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle under bondage. Looking back at Resena, for early Puerto Rico, Neumann Gandia simply elides the topic (save for the statistics) yet the system of enslavement permeates the economic activity of the era he describes, the 1840s on.
Neumann Gandia, Resena historica de sobre la fundacion y crecimiento del municipio de Moca Page 82
Neumann Gandia’s Moca of the 1840s, p.82
“…Así se vivía en aquella época patriarcal y primitiva desprovista de ideales, aspiraciones y huérfana de comodidades, donde no habia a sola escuela en todo el partido. Pocos sabían leer y menos escribir, pero había suma honradez en las compra-ventas y contratos. Se vivía como en familia y las viandas que faltaban en una casa se suministraban por los vecinos reciprocamente. Los compadres se estimaban como si fuesen hermanos, y todos los habitantes del partido se estimaban entre si con gran afecto y consideraciones. No existían escrituras públicas y según cuenta la tradición oral que se ha trasmitido hasta nuestros días, de padres á hijos al finalizar los contratos bervales, se arrancaban mútuamente un cabello de la cabeza, en señal de su cumplimiento, y rara vez, ó casi nunca, dejaban de llevarse á cabo sus pactos los cuales cumplían con religiosidad. Pocas demandas ó ningunas se interponían y eran raros los asesinatos y desconocidos por completo el robo y el pillaje en esta comarca, así como en toda la isla. Eran estos vecinos muy católicos y a veces muy superticiosos. A la entrada de sus casas ó en los bateyes de las mismas, levantaban el signo de redención, ó sea cruces de madera, y rezaban diariamente el rosario, como su oración favorita. vestían con camisa de listado, pantalón de coleta y sombrero de paja, é iban enteramente descalzos. Sobre todo, sentían gran placer por los bailes fandan-gos, celebrando muchas fiestas por Navidad, Año Nuevo y Reyes, que duraban semanas enteras y distribuían pasteles, almojábanas, alfajores, majarete, manjar blanco, mundo nuevo y otros dulces criollos, así como licores y refrescos á la gente que á ellas concurrian. El carácter alegre y jovial de los pobladores, originarios, los más, del medio día de España, prevalecía entre estos vecinos.“
“That is how life was in that patriarchal and primitive time devoid of ideals, aspirations and orphaned of accommodation, where there was not a single school in the entire region Few knew how to read and even less how to write, but there was honesty in sales and contracts. One lived as family and the vegetables that one household lacked was taken care of by the locals reciprocity. Godfathers treated each other as if they were brothers, and all the inhabitants of the area regarded each other with great affection and considerations. There were no public documents and after oral tradition that has been transmitted to the present, of fathers and sons finalizing their verbal contracts, each would pull a hair from the other’s head as a sign of fulfillment, and rarely, or almost never, left from taking to completion their pacts, which they accomplished religiously. Few demands or none were and rarely were there murders or unknowns who robbed and pillaged in this county as in the rest of the island. These inhabitants were very Catholic and very superstitious. At the entry of their homes or in the bateyes of the same, they raised the sign of redemption, that is to say, wooden crosses and daily recited the rosary as their favorite prayer. They dressed with striped shirts, canvas pants , a straw hat and went entirely barefoot. Above all they were greatly pleased by the fandango dances, celebrated many parties through Christmas, New Years and All Kings Day, that lasted entire weeks, and distributed pasteles, “almojábanas, alfajores, majarete, manjar blanco, mundo nuevo” and other local sweets, along with liquor and refreshments to those to whom they agreed with. The happy and jovial character of the original founders, more from the middle age of Spain prevails among these locals…”
Neumann Gandia lays out a different world for the early nineteenth century. His was not an inclusive history, and the only cultural source recognized is European. AfroIndigenous or African cultural survivals or influences are not mentioned. This was instead a peasant society composed of a superstitious and illiterate populace prone to violence, whose ‘happy character’ is simply an expression of early Spanish culture. Look at those numbers though on p.82. Taking the categories of free and unfree together, the 2,299 BIPOC population is significant yet has no role in the historical scenario he sketched above.
The fact is that the island was a process of settler colonial society, with a system that required violence and the use of force to control the enslaved and sharecroppers ‘of various colors’ within a stratified society. Born in 1852, slavery shaped Neumann Gandia’s world. Freedpeople were very much around in 1910, and the process of emancipation terminated in 1886. Also interesting is that Neumann Gandia’s collection of Taino bird effigy bowls was purchased by Jesse Walter Fewkes. This remains for us to discuss in understanding our ancestors lives today and their world.
The best history of Moca is Antonio Nieves Morales’ Moca 1772-2000: Historia de un pueblo (Lulu.com, 2008). Nieves Mendez’ work is groundbreaking as a full history, one that includes tables listing enslavers and the enslaved, and his own connection to this past, via his family history.
Miguel A. Babilonia Talavera, Alcalde de Moca
Lost is the original cover and the introduction to the section on Moca, a message by the mayor, Miguel A. Babilonia Talavera (1867-1947) who became Alcalde in 1899, and again from 1905-1910. He is my great uncle, brother to my great grandfather Ambrosio Alcides Babilonia Talavera (1860-1951), who I knew from my mother’s recollections of her childhood there.
He served as mayor after the annexation of Moca from Aguadilla took place in 1905. On pages 50-51, the 1972 Historia de Moca volume reproduces part of page 79 from the Neumann Gandia pamphlet as “Don Miguel A. Babilonia se despide de sus conciudadanos” written in December 1910.
I want to express my deep thanks to all the members of the Babilonia family and their descendants, and members of SAMocanos for sharing their information and photographs with me over the years. I especially want to thank my cousin Gaspar Babilonia, for sharing his collection of his grandfather’s photographs.
Now digitized images of ancestors and their communities populate a variety of places on social media, another way that descendants can connect to their past. Neumann Gandia’s work is but one expression of this from over a century ago.
In working with the histories of enslaved ancestors, one comes to the questions of survival and resilience in the face of all that bondage could entail. The mid-nineteenth century world of a rural hacienda in Puerto Rico where a young African woman is enslaved, is recreated in the pages of Dalma Llanos Figueroa’s 2022 novel, A Woman of Endurance.
It is an incredibly moving book that takes one through moments in her life, the episodes of violence and trauma, of learning, caretaking and trusting in a world hostile to recognizing the full humanity of the labor that built it. There is the potential for violence at every turn.
We glimpse the lives of the women who are working for the big house in different capacities, and Pola makes a transition from working the fields to the sewing room. This and other events ripple through the groups whose lives are not under their own control. Through the figure of Pola, there is healing. Community and love, however vulnerable it may make a situation, is what helps one survive.
The story of Pola takes us through an experience that replicates the experiences of many enslaved women. In Yorubaland, West Africa in 1831, Keera, a very young woman comes to know of her power from her mother. After surviving the Middle Passage and assaults, we come to know her as Pola, with this brief glimpse of life before capture and enslavement in a flashback. The vision comes while she recovers in another hacienda.
Llanos-Figueroa recreates this world vividly, with descriptions of situations that do not shy from the violence of losing children, or finding love and understanding in the middle of a forced labor camp.
Note the cover art, a woman in a silk dress with a pattern on her back that echos the pattern of scars on the back of a painting of Gordon, who served as a Sargent in the Louisiana Native Guards during the Civil War. The painting is based on the cabinet card photo where he reveals his back, and the arrangement of painting, flowers, beads and symbols suggest this is an altar that honors Gordon’s experiences as an ancestor. The fabric of a life.
This is one of the most incredible novels i’ve read, and on my list of key texts for our times.
Available in Spanish as Indomitable. Amistad Publishing.
Jessie Walter Fewkes (1850-1930) was an American anthropologist, archaeologist and writer who worked in the Southwest US and the Caribbean.
I keep looking at Fewkes’ diary, parts of which read like a shopping list for Indigenous objects. Little has been written on his time in Puerto Rico, which was a result of the ‘demand for more scientific literature on Porto Rico and the West Indies’, which led to field work in the islands and publication of the Report on the Aborigines of Porto Rico and Neighboring Islands.’ 
Here’s an excerpt from Fewkes’ handwritten diary, from April 1904:
“A man ploughing a few days ago found a fine collar in his field
I was too late to get it as it had been given to Mr. Fritsche who will present it to a Berlin Museum-
Mr Trujillo of Ponce has a fine tripointed idol and a spherical bowl which he found at Guayanilla. Evidently then are many other things in the barrio called Indios when there was formerly an Indian settlement.
Nazario found many specimens in this region –“
I couldn’t find more on Mr. Trujillo or Mr. Fritsche, but I did find the ‘Porto Rico 6’ photograph of a coa (also called a stone collar) whose accession date at the Berlin Ethnologisches Museum means it very likely entered the collection close to when it photographed by Adolf Bastian, before 1905. Given the timing, it’s likely the same artifact.
Barrio Indios, Guayanilla
So, what about this settlement? As historian Rafael A. Torrech writes, Barrio Indios, Guayanilla, on the south of the island, is where the yukayeke of cacike Agueybana existed , where early wars of colonization took place. Eventually, sugar plantations covered the landscape and artifacts from ancestors emerged from the ground as it was prepared for planting. Collections were created by hacendados, and once the US had Puerto Rico as a colony, an international rush for artifacts intensified. Fewkes’ notebooks of his travels reveal a range of persons that he encountered while crossing the island from San Juan to Utuado, and then south to Ponce and the Indiera. Some people gift him objects like stone hatchets, buys others and inventories sites and the objects harvested from them.
As stone objects turned up across the island, anthropologists and archaeologists began to surmise their age and purpose. Taino people were framed as outside of time although they are acknowledged and described as present in Fewkes’ essay. Looking back, he is evidently troubled by the complexity of AfroIndigenous identity. The idea of the ‘pure Indian’ colors his commentary, and oral history is suspect; notice that Natives are the laborers hired to build the roads in Utuado and Comerio; the area is even called Indiera. Fewkes goes on and acknowledges the presence of Indian ancestry, then the diversity of the Indigenous slave trade defeats the idea of any contemporary Taino identity on Boriken. No surprise really, as this is the heyday of Eugenic thought, which communicated and structured the spectacles of the World’s Fair and Expositions.
Envisioning Porto Rico, 1899-1904
Here is an example of imperialist propaganda that circulated in the wake of the Spanish-American War that promoted the view of Indigenous people as incapable of self-governance and rule. Spain’s three colonies became US property. The Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba are here shown as 3 Black infants wrapped in a US flag on the back of a soldier who stands in for ‘Uncle Sam’. It’s a foto reenactment of the 1899 Victor Gilliam cartoon, “The White Man’s Burden” from Judge magazine. This anti-Native anti-Black perspective is part of the context for understanding the relationship of Native peoples to the US at the turn of the century, and at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Often the more offensive displays that underwrote white supremacy were in the entertainment areas of the fair, readily absorbed by millions under the rubric of ‘fun’.
Fewkes’ Reference to Father Nazario
In the 1870s, Father Jose Maria Nazario Cancel was brought by dona Juana Morales, a descendant of Agueybana to a cluster of some 800 stone pieces that she had protected over time. Today the archaeologist Reniel Rodriguez (UPR- Utuado) is researching the stones, and considers them as objects that date from precolumbian contact- 900BC-900AD. Yet the stones are not Taino and were not among those purchased by Fewkes in 1902-1903.
Not far from Guayanilla is the Centro Ceremonial Caguana, “the largest ceremonial site of its kind, not only in Puerto Rico, but the entire West Indies” built between 1200-1500 AD in the La Cordillera Central, the central mountain range. In terms of DNA testing, people from here, on the western side of the island tend towards higher percentages of Indigenous ancestry.
In terms of Caguana, it’s a ‘lived landscape’ a place where space, identity and heritage intersect and embodies group memory. It’s not static, but changes over time, and is “a locus for negotiating the dissonance between colonial and indigenous identities.” Despite years of neglect by the ICP (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena), it was a place vital for descendants to rediscover their cultural identity. Over five decades, Caguana has become a sacred site for Taino people, and in 2003-2005, the culture war between Taino activists and the ICP came to a head. (Diaz 232-233) Some still think Arawakan peoples, among them the Taino are extinct, and part of this thinking is the result of paper genocide.
The landscape in Puerto Rico is subject to constant disturbances from agriculture and development. The discovery of artifacts often means site destruction in order to avoid building delays as some have documented on video. There’s still much to learn from these archaeological sites, however for different audiences, namely Taino communities, the stakes are different. It’s about colonization and collections, and a difficult path to official recognition. It’s about seeing that connection between the past and present, learning what we can from these moments in colonization.
From ‘Elbow stone’ to Coa
As for the ‘elbow stone’ or ‘stone collar’ that Fewkes missed out on purchasing, this is called a coa, recognized as a sacred form by Taino peoples. It is based on the blending of two forms, the footrest of a hardwood digging stick for agriculture with that of the great serpent, whose head was carved into the foot rest. By bending the stick, using fire and water, the resulting form references the coiling of a snake and the form of human uterus, symbol of time and its passage as a spiral.
At some point, this wooden form was adapted into a stone carving with elements that reference the Taino worldview. You can read more about this on the Caney Circle webpage here.
1904: St. Louis Exposition
So what was some of the motivation for creating the collection? Fewkes brought together an assemblage of some 550 pieces of Indigenous / Arawakan stone artifacts exhibited at the 1904 St Louis Exposition. Our ancestors stone artifacts had a role at the fair, as a material assurance that primitive people were in the colonies. Here, representing ‘Porto Rico’ it suggests that Native people were extinct a part of something rapidly fading, a group no longer with us. How convenient.
The roofless building of Puerto Rico’s two floor ‘pagoda’ within the Agricultural Building is surrounded by props, sawed off barrel tops and angled logs in front to suggest trade, and tradition through the structure’s French detailing. The first floor “was dedicated to agriculture, mines, forestry and a few of the manufactures exhibits.” The second floor held “liberal arts and manufactures exhibits”, and a needlework display by the Women’s Aid Society, San Juan and the Benevolent Society, Ponce. The focus was on exports of coffee, sugar, tobacco, cotton, liquor and pharmaceutical products. The Puerto Rican legislature appropriated $30,000 for “the purpose of representation at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.” Yet it had no separate catalog, and no association with Fewkes’ collection.
I’ve searched collections for additional information on the stone artifacts at the Exposition, but the only mention of them is in Fewkes’ article in the Smithsonian papers. This collection wasn’t displayed here.
Consuming the Primitive
What grabbed attention at the 1904 fair was the display of Indigenous people brought from Africa and the Philippines. These were literally human zoos that several million people visited at St. Louis. They were subjected to perform as living examples of primitive people, yet the barbaric genocidal behaviors of the US go unmentioned. So, it seems stone objects of a supposedly extinct people were reassuring for the colonizer’s frame of reference.
Over 1200 persons were exported to the Exposition for display, including the Bedonkohe Apache leader and medicine man Goyathlay, known as Geronimo. While a prisoner of the US Government, he was exhibited at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha Nebraska, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and at the 1905 inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt. He died imprisoned at Fort Sill in 1909. 
Where were the stones shown? I still haven’t found a precise location at the 1904 Exposition.
And after 1904, the collection of Arawakan stone objects left St. Louis and were returned to the bowels of the Smithsonian, where they were eventually put into their storage facilities. Back in 2004, I met Ricardo Alegria, QEPD, the Director of the ICP who told me he anticipated the day the objects at the Smithsonian would be repatriated to the island. At that time, I didn’t realize how different an idea of Nation would be for me today. One day, Taino people will have facilities ready for their welcome return.
Rafael A. Inocencio Torrech: “Según diversos historiadores, varios yucayeques taínos de importancia estaban ubicados en el área sur de Puerto Rico, incluyendo el del legendario Agueybaná. Reconocidos historiadores como Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo –contemporáneo a la temprana colonización– ubican la aldea de Agueybaná en la ribera del Río Coayuco (hoy Río Yauco), con una población estimada entre 1,000 y 5,000 habitantes. Fue en la boca del Río Coayuco, según el historiador Cayetano Coll y Toste, que las fuerzas de Ponce de León derrotaron por primera vez a los indígenas en la llamada rebelión de 1511. La ribera y la desembocadura de este río, hoy conocido como Río Yauco, es consistente con la localización actual del Barrio Indios. El Barrio Indios también nos legó la Biblioteca de Agueybaná: uno de los hallazgos arqueológicos más singulares y excepcionales del País…” Rafael A. Torrech Inocencio, Barrio Indios, Guayanilla. 80grados.net 21 Feb 2020. https://www.80grados.net/barrio-indios-guayanilla/
Jesse Walter Fewkes, “The aborigines of Porto Rico and neighboring islands.” Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution to the Secretary of the Smithsonian, 1903-1904. Washington DC: SI. (1907) 1-220. https://archive.org/details/annualreportofbo1906smitfo
“Porto Rico” The Final Report on the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. 331-332.
Rosalina Diaz, “El Grito de Caguana: Identity Conflict in Puerto Rico.” in Diane F. George & Bernice Kurchin, Archaeology of Identity and Dissonance: contexts for a brave new world. U Press of Florida, 2019, 229-250.
Appendix: Writings of Jesse Walter Fewkes on the Caribbean
On Zemes from Santo Domingo. Am. Anthrop., vol. iv, no. 2, pp. 167-175, Washington, 1891.
Prehistoric Porto Rico. Address by the Vice President and Chairman of Section H, for 1901, at the Pittsburgh meeting of the Amer. Asso. Adv. Sci. Proc. Amer. Asso. Adv. Sci., vol. li, pp. 487-512, Pittsburg, 1902. Reprinted in Science, n. s. vol. xvi, no. 394, pp. 94-109, New York, 1902. Translated in Globus, Band Ixxxii, Nrs. 18 and 19, Braunschweig, 1902.
Prehistoric Porto Rican pictographs. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. v, no. 3, pp. 441-467, Lancaster, 1903.
Precolumbian West Indian amulets. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. v, no. 4, pp. 679-691, Lancaster, 1903.
Preliminary report on an archaeological trip to the West Indies. Smithson. Misc. Colls., Quarterly Issue, vol. 45, pp. 112-133, Washington, 1903. Reprinted in Sci. Amer. Suppl., vol. Ivii, pp. 23796-99, 23812-14, New York, June 18-25, 1904.
Porto Rico stone collars and tripointed idols. Smithson. Misc. Colls.
Porto Rican elbow-stones in the Heye Museum, with discussion of similar objects elsewhere. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. xv, no. 3. pp. 435-459, Lancaster, 1913. Reprinted as Cont. Heye Mus., vol. i. no. 4.
[Report on] Ethnological investigations in the West Indies. Explorations and Field-work of the Smithson. Inst, in 1912, Smithson. Misc. Colls., vol. 60, no. 30, pp. 32-33, Washington, 1913. lls., Quarterly Issue, vol. 47, pt. 2, pp. 163-186, Washington. 1904.
Prehistoric culture of Cuba. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. vi, no. 5, pp. 585-598, Lancaster, 1904.
The aborigines of Porto Rico and neighboring islands. Twenty-fifth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., pp. 3-220, Washington, 1907.
Further notes on the archaeology of Porto Rico. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. x, no. 4, pp. 624-633, Lancaster, 1908.
An Antillean statuette, with notes on West Indian religious beliefs. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. xi, no. 3, pp. 348-358, Lancaster, 1909.
Relations of aboriginal culture and environment in the Lesser Antilles. Bull. Am. Geog. Soc, vol. xlvi, no. 9, pp. 662-678, New York, 1914. Reprinted as Cont. Heye. Mus., vol. i. No. 8.
A prehistoric stone collar from Porto Rico. Am. Anthrop., n. s. vol. xvi, no. 2, pp. 319-330, Lancaster, 1914.
[Report on] Antiquities of the West Indies. Explorations and Field-work of the Smithson. Inst, in 1913, Smithson. Misc. Colls., vol. 63, no. 8, pp. 58-61, Washington, 1914
Vanished races of the Caribbean. Abstract of paper read before the Anthrop. Soc. Washington, Nov. 3, 1914. Journ. Washington Acad. Sci., vol. v, no. 4, pp. 142-144, Baltimore, 1915.
Prehistoric cultural centers in the West Indies. Journ. Washington Acad. Sci., vol. v, no. 12, pp. 436-443, Baltimore, 1915.
Engraved celts from the Antilles. Cont. Heye Mus., vol. ii, no. 3, New York, 1915.
Archaeology of Barbados. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., vol. i, pp. 47-51, Baltimore, 1915.
Prehistoric island culture areas of America. Thirty-fourth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., Washington, . [In press.]
Right now i’m looking over this entry for a property sale Aguadilla from February 18541. It’s a lock, stock and barrel sale between first cousins, and the order of importance for the details enumerated is very telling.
It begins with the layout of land in Barrio Malezas, Aguadilla, a 180 cuerda (174.6 acres) property, alongside several other plantation owners. D. Rafael del Valle y Ponce is selling this estate to his first cousin, D Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce. I have distant ties to these families, with Rafael del Valle being my 1C5R and Jose Genaro del Valle my 2C4R. They were close and the relationship chart below outlines the cousin relationship between both men. Note that Rafael was also related to Jose Genaro’s mother, however, this set of relationships (via the Ponce line) is not included here.
Rafael’s father, Nicolas del Valle y Perez de Arce served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla three different times, in 1814, 1820-21 and in 1836. Rafael was one of his eight children with Eugenia II Ponce y Perez de Arce (b. abt. 1781).
Rafael’s cousin, Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce (bca 1819) was the son of Antonio del Valle y Perez de Arce (b.1783) and Maria Gregoria de Arce Ponce (1792-1842).
Jose Genaro’s father Antonio, served as Alcalde of Aguadilla just once, in 1837. Clearly, this family possessed a degree of political clout in the municipality. In addition, by having this sale occur within the family, they kept their wealth. As a business practice, endogamy helped to insure trust in partnerships at a time before banks existed on Puerto Rico.
In January 1853, both Rafael del Valle and Jose Genaro del Valle went before the notary to record an arrangement that gave Jose Genaro del Valle the power to administer the cattle ranch in Barrio Malezas, including the enslaved persons, the animals there, and a house in town. By 11 February 1854, the situation had changed. Rafael’s contract which paid 400 pesos yearly to Jose Genaro, as he points out in the document, was now rescinded3. Next on that same day, the sale of the property from Rafael del Valle to Jose Genaro del Valle was recorded. Jose Genaro del Valle was the new owner.
The property transfer is just a few paragraphs long. Laid out are the names of the other property owners: Antonio Almeida & d. Manuel Badillo on the south along the Royal road of the mountain, on the east with Da. Rosa de Santiago and the Royal road that goes by the front to d. Patricio González, and on the west side, with Da.María Ponce and Da.Josefa Mirle. Wives could also own, manage businesses and inherit property independently of their husbands. Each person ran their own hacienda or estancia that included enslaved ancestors.
Maria Ponce is most likely Maria Eugenia II Ponce y Perez, wife of Nicolas del Valle; Josefa Mirle is Josefa Mirle Gonzalez, wife of Francisco Almeida of Portugal. The baptism record for their daughter Manuela Almeida Mirle of 1817 mentions that she was born in Maleza Alta4, which helps localize the family in a specific barrio. Both the Ponce and Mirle families, like the del Valle, held larger numbers of enslaved people to work their ranches, farms and plantations.
The Valle plantation held some 100 head of cattle, 6 horses and two mares with foals. After the animals were enumerated in the deed, nineteen people held in bondage were listed. The price for the estate was 14,000 pesos macuquina with 2,700 pesos of the total owed to Eugenio Alers, a hacendado who was building his holdings between Aguadilla and Isabela and lending money mid-century to property owners in the area.
Values for the nineteen enslaved persons, which may include at least two clusters of family, were not specified. Two persons on the list survived the Middle Passage, and another was from Costa Firme, Venezuela, pointing to the global connections of these transactions. The rest were criollos, born in Puerto Rico; there were ten male and nine females of different ages, three of them too young to work. They were termed ‘siervos esclavos‘, enslaved servants, perhaps more concerned with running a household and raising livestock. There is no mention of specific duties in the deed.
Aside from two 40 year old men, these ancestors were young, and perhaps some of them made it into the pages of the Registro Civil. If they did, it seems unlikely they used their former enslaver’s surname after freedom.
Say Their Names
Here are the names, ages and approximate dates of birth for these ancestors in Aguadilla in February 1854.
I plan to look back to records from 1822 and then to the cedulas of 1868-70 of the Registro de Esclavos to see if any of these ancestors remained under the control of del Valle family members. Hopefully there is more to learn about them.
1 Haydee E. Reichard de Cardona, Haciendas agrícolas del triángulo noroeste de Puerto Rico, sus dueños e historias. Jose A Amador Acosta, Ed. Editorial HER Historias y Escritos Riquenos, 2020.
2Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, 1854. AGPR. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.74 a 76 ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran compareció D.Rafael del Valle de este vecindario y dijo que otorga venta Real y absoluta a favor de D.José Genaro del Valle también vecino una estancia en esta juridicción en el barrio de Malezas compuesta de 180 cuerdas colindantes al norte con Antonio Almeida y D.Manuel Badillo, por el sur con el camino Real de la montaña, al este con Da.Rosa de Santiago y el camino Real que pasa por el frente a D.Patricio González, al este con Da.María Ponce y Da.Josefa Mirle incluidas las plantaciones en ellas, 100 cabezas de ganado,6 caballos,2 yeguas con crías y los siervos esclavos Luis natural de áfrica de 30 años,Juana María de 25 años y su hija de un año,Tomasa de 40 años, Luisa de 25 años, Carmen de 25 años con una hija de un año,Demetrio de 12 años, Hermenegildo de 16 años,Paulina de 61 30 años, José de 20 años, José María de 40 años,Tomás de 40 años,Tomasa de 30 años,Antonio de 12 años, Juan José de 16 años,Isabel de 2 años,Manuel natural de costa firme de 4 años,Andrés de 25 años natural de áfrica, una casa de madera y tejemani en la calle principal de este partido con solar de 16 varas de frente colindante al norte con Da.Paula Giménez, por el sur con el comprador, al oeste la calle y al este con otro solar del mismo comprador cuyos bienes le pertenecen por compra hecha a D.José Genaro del Valle según escritura otorgada en Enero 12 de 1853 por la cantidad de 14,000 pesos maququinos y 2,700 pesos quedan en poder del comprador hasta satisfacer la cantidad que el mismo adeuda a D.Eugenio Alers a cuya responsabilidad está gravada la estancia.Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez, D.José Trinidad Veray D.Ramón Esteban Martínez.
3 Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, AGPR fol.78 a 78-v, 11 Feb 1854. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.78 a 78-v ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran comparecieron D.Rafael del Valle y D.José Genaro del Valle de este vecindad y dijeron que en Enero 12 de 1853 concedio el primero al segundo poder para administrar la estancia que tenía en el barrio de Malezas de esta juridicción, los esclavos y animales que tenía y una casa en este pueblo señalándole el salario de 400 pesos anuales y rescinden dicho contrato. Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez,D.Rafael Esteban Martínez y D.Francisco de Paula Vergara.
4 Acta de Bautismo, Manuela Almeida Mirle, APSCB Libro 5 #944,17 June 1817.
In my recent blog post Yturrino: Looking at a collateral line, I had questions about what kind of business Felipe Iturrino Arzua (1811 -1894) of Anasco was in. While I was able to follow some notary documents that described a string of land purchases in different municipalities, it really wasn’t clear what he had invested in.
These land purchases now make more sense after finding him listed in the 1872 Registro de Esclavos. Yvonne Santana Rios’ transcription of Anasco and Cabo Rojo portions of the 1872 volume led me back to searching the FamilySearch database ‘Slave Registers, Puerto Rico, 1863 – 1879 ‘. I still have no name for the hacienda that these individuals worked, and know more or less where it was located, in barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco. Yturrino and his family lived in barrio Corcobada to the east of Cerro Gordo, and later in a house in barrio Pueblo.
In barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco, Yturrino enslaved over 20 people, whose cedulas are receipts for the transfer of ownership from the individual slave holders to the colonial government, and they received 120 pesetas per document. The status change to libertos (freedmen or freedwomen) meant rights were established over time.
According to the terms of the Moret Law, these men, women and children entered a contract to work for their former enslavers or for a different plantation owner. They received no pay, but their freedom at the end of three years. For the youngest, this process of manumission lasted until 1886.
Labor: de Esclava/o a Liberta/o
There were a range of tasks, however few were dependent on women becoming domestics in elite households, or took in laundry, or were dress makers. The majority of enslaved women worked as Labradoras, field laborers alongside men. This ran contrary to the ideal of an enslaved person that circulated in prints and paintings, often depicted as male. Men worked as cooks, carpenters and mostly as field laborers in the sugar centrales that grew after the Spanish American war, and women’s labor shifted to the domestic.
While the categories for labor in the documents for the Registro de Esclavos are few, these do not give a precise idea of the range of tasks that a person had, nor how expert they had become. Cerro Gordo was elevated land, better suited for coffee cultivation, and this is likely the crop that Yturrino’s enslaved workers were raising. Given the patterns of inheritance, there is a high probability that the Hacienda de Iturrino in the 1893 Military Map for Anasco to San Sebastian is the same location as in 1870, situated near the streams in the hills that ran between Anasco and Moca.
Say Their Names: Enslaved families, children, locations
Below is a list of 20 persons listed on cedulas from 1868 on which D. Felipe Yturrino y Arzua appears as dueno (owner). The oldest was Agustin an 80 year old man born in Africa; the youngest was 2 year old Josefa, born in Cerro Gordo, one of the children of Evangelista and Vicenta. Nearly half of those enslaved were children.
The few families I could trace to the Registro Civil opted to take a different surname; not one kept Iturrino as a surname. Some moved to Mayaguez in the years that followed. With the collapse of coffee prices after the 1870s, sugar plantations soon dominated the landscape.
Should these names be familiar to you, please feel free to reach out.
Our cousin Allen passed this Monday 17 October, leaving us shocked that he is gone. Allen was funny, kind and generous, someone with a big heart.
His funeral will be held next Monday, 24 October at Blount & Curry Funeral Home at Garden of Memories, 4207 E Lake Ave in Tampa, FL 33610. Visitation 1-2PM, Funeral Service 2-3PM.
Born in the Bronx to Vivian Fernandez and Manuel Acevedo, Allen was the second of two sons. He leaves Nancy his wife of 42 years, daughter Ileana and a grandson, his brothers Manny, Javier, Papo, Rachel, their children. The network of family who loved him are saddened by his dying.
Allen was just a year older and in my life since I was born. Thanks to the tenements and cheap rents of the 1950s and 1960s, our extended family was just blocks away from each other in the South Bronx. This was a tough landscape, different from what is in Mott Haven today.
There are some fotos of early birthday parties, the apartments full of children at birthdays and Christmas holidays. By the 1960s we visited Vivian and Manuel in their apartment in the new high rise projects on Westchester Blvd, where Manny played basketball and protected Allen, his skinnier, paler brother.
Allen loved Bruce Lee and Kung fu movies, a love shared with my brother Orlando, figuring out the kicks and moves that sent people flying. Another love was watching Soul Train. Allen also told corny jokes, loved to laugh and was easy to get along with.
I remember Allen telling me about his first jobs in the Bronx, during the 1970s. Once he worked at an Alexander’s on Third Ave. where leather jackets hung with thin chains down one sleeve as an anti theft device. Addicts floated in looking for an easy item to shoplift. One man was so out of it, he slipped a jacket on and proceeded to drag the enormous rack behind him, wondering why he was only able to move a short distance before being swept off the floor by security. Working in department stores had its moments, so Allen got into computer programming very early.
Eventually he met Nancy, the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. His job sent them to Tampa. They were a perfect couple as her grounded strength balanced whatever doubts he faced. Allen could be a nervous guy, but Nancy affirmed him. He was a father to Ileana and a grandfather to her son, a granduncle, a brother and cousin to others.
Family meant a deep connection to Puerto Rico, Florida and other places. Allen was generous to a fault, helping out whenever he could. As other family did, we stayed with them when we visited Tampa, and when we first moved here. His mother Vivian lived with Allen and Nancy until the end of her life. He was a pallbearer for my father when he passed a few months later in 2017. This too is part of a migration south that went from the colony of Boriken a century ago, then north to the Bronx and New York metropolitan area and then south to Tampa Bay. Allen, Nancy, Dolly, Vivian, Tony, Papo, Margie, Armando, Orlando, Luddy, Rachel and myself made their way here, all of us descendants of Ramon Fernandez and Angelina Calo and Carmen Dorios-Picon, born 100+ years ago.
The past week has been intense, to stand with family and be there for his passing. We hoped he would get through 3 weeks of an induced coma for acute pancreatitis, and then witnessed a series of complications erode the possibility of his return. We prayed and asked for him to stay, in some ways I held a childlike hope that this would change. Instead, a part of my life has calved and fallen away, and he becomes an ancestor, someone I will see when my transition comes.
Finding additional details can make working with documents fascinating. Often it can help us understand relationships that structured the lives of persons further back in time.
Some collateral lines have ancestors who came from sites in Spain, details that are often reduced to “Espana”. The Yturrinos (or Iturrinos) offer another connection to Basque country, and this family is from an old coastal port town, today called Mutriku (Motrico) in Guipuzcoa founded in 1209. Why come so far?
Of Whales, Fish & Indigenous People, De Balenas, Pescados y Gente Indigena
People have sailed out of Mutriku for centuries. Historian Birgit Sonneson writes that since the Middle Ages in Basque country ports, the activities of fishing and maritime traffic were the economic base for the region. In fact, Basque whalers and fishermen went to Canada yearly to fish whale and cod, an interaction that had the fishermen learning Indigenous words from the local groups.
Champlain’s journals contain Basque words. There were no permanent Basque settlements, but camps along the coast were occupied by the fishermen from April to September when they departed for home.  By 1541, several Iroquoian groups already had Basque names by the time the French arrived in Labrador. The industry lasted until 1579 when the English attacked Basque whalers. This created a crisis that ended their whaling in the Strait of Belle Isle . 
That may have ended whaling as an industry, but the Basque regrouped and focused on fishing, sealed and traded with Indigenous peoples and sedentary fishing communities. They laid claim to more than 100 ports throughout western and southern Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Chaleur Bay, and the St. Lawrence Estuary. Historian Brad Lowen writes: “An indirect indicator of these partnerships is the historical incidence of Basque names among Inuit, Mi’kmaw, and Métis families in southern Labrador, Cape Breton Island, and parts of Gaspésie. ” Basques also forged ties with the Inuit around the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  I imagine there are blended ancestries reflected in DNA, another set of unexpected connections facilitated by colonialism.
When John Cabot rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497, he saw the profit to be made from the fish in these cold Atlantic waters. Slices of cod were packed between layers of salt, and the water content dropped to 60%; with further drying, it went down to 40%. Now, this was a product that could last over the course of a long voyage, and without refrigeration. Demand on the Iberian peninsula and in European markets was high. By 1660, production increased, but what really drove demand in the late 17th century was the rise of sugar.
The increase in enslaved West Africans as labor for the production of sugar cane in the Caribbean made bacalao attractive to plantation owners that relied on cost-cutting solutions to make their profit. They bought cheap salt cod rather than devote large portions of land for growing crops or raising animals to feed the enslaved. Those who prepared the small salt cod sold in the Caribbean were caught in a cycle of debt and credit. “El negocio del azucar es para Puerto Rico, lo que el bacalao es para Terranova.” [ 5]
I delved into this history of commerce in an attempt to get some clarity on what kind of ‘Comerciante‘ this Basque family member was part of. There were limits – as Mutriku is a port city, agriculture wasn’t an option to enter into, so it was either trade or fishing. With inheritance, only one son could inherit an estate, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. As I have no correspondence or documentation on the first Yturrino to reach Puerto Rico beyond marriage and children, it’s difficult to say what precipitated the move across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. But as an island whose economy was then based on slavery, there are ties to this in some way.
The earliest known Yturrino in Puerto Rico is Juan Antonio Yturrino born in 1751 in Mutriku, Guipuzcoa. He is definitely on the island by 1780, when his son Pedro Joseph Yturrino Velez was born. Juan Antonio Yturrino married Rosalia Beles [Velez] Camacho, and she dies a widow by the time of her death on 13 Nov 1804, in Mayaguez. They had five children, two of which have known descendants, Pedro Joseph born 28 Jun 1780 and Benito Iturrino Velez, born about 1792.
Pedro Joseph Iturrino Velez married Ysidra Arzua Crespo of Bayamon. As far as is known they had one son, Felipe Iturrino Arzua. His brother, Benito Iturrino Velez was married twice, to Ysidra Morales Crespo on January 1814 in Anasco, and after her death, he married Catalina Martinez. 
Felipe Iturrino Arzua
On the morning of 16 March 1894, Felipe Yturrino Arzua died of fever at the age of 83. [10 ] His death record reveals a long life, with three marriages and children from each relationship, and substantial land purchases in Moca and San Sebastian. Born in Bayamon, he died in Barrio Corcobada, Anasco, and his family tree branches into several municipalities. Where it connects to my tree is through the Babilonia. Both his generation and those of the Babilonia Quinones were the grandchildren of at least one grandparent born in Spain, most often a grandfather.
These were marriages of equal social stature, that rested on an economy based on slavery, dependent on the labor of a highly admixed, African descended and Afro-Indigenous enslaved population. By the 1870s, this population transitioned to freedom about the time Felipe Iturrino began to have children. The plantations eventually became farms and after the Spanish American War were mostly dedicated to corporate sugar cultivation.
Land acquisition in Moca, 1864
In the 1860s, Felipe began purchasing land in Moca. In March 1864, he purchased over 23 acres of land that included coffee and coconut palm farms in Barrio Plata Moca from Jose Dolores Nunez. He received 386 pesos for it at the 1864 sale. This lot bordered property owned by Ramon Rivera on the south, Antonio Ramos on the east, and Flora Arocho on the north side. On the west side, his border was land embargoed by Nunez in lieu of payment. Nunez purchased the land over twenty years earlier from Cristobal Soto. 
Next, in August 1864, widow Florencia Acevedo of Moca went before the notary Eusebio de Arze in Aguadilla to register the sale of another adjoining piece of property in Barrio Plata to Felipe Yturrino. This property comprised over 21 acres in two lots, including pasture and brush (pasto y maleza) that bordered the previous purchase on the east side, and the embargoed land from Jose Dolores Nunez on the south. The smaller seven-acre lot ran along the land of Ramon de Rivera on the east, Manuel [illegible] on the west, and Manuel Hernandez to the south.
The plat’s borders were living– borders that extended from a variety of flowering trees and plants— guava, maguey, jobo, mamey, and moca, along with fresh water springs at different points. Florencia Acevedo Perez inherited this land from her parents Chrisosomos Acevedo and Antonia Perez, and sold it for 184 pesos. 
What kind of person was he? Felipe Yturrino didn’t take insults lightly, as this list of fines from January 1842 from La Gaceta shows. “D. Juan Eduardo Langevin for having loudly insulted with imputations and denigrating words to Felipe Iturrino, without him having lacked in anything or answering such grievances, was condemned in an oral hearing for a fine of 6 pesos .” 
The Marriages of Felipe Iturrino
Felipe Iturrino married three times and had children from each marriage. His first marriage was to Teresa de Jesus Salome de Rivera Ortiz, daughter of Felipe Rivera and Juana Bautista Ortiz on 22 January 1844 in Anasco. With her, he had three children, Juan Dionisio, Lucidaria, and Eulogia Yturrino Rivera.  As adults, Juan Dionisio was a medical doctor, and Eulogia was a teacher appointed by Spain in Quebradillas.
His second marriage was to Teresa’s sister, Maria Gregoria de Rivera Ortiz on 27 June 1859 in Anasco. On PARES, there are documents for an 1859 dispensation from Spain that was granted in order for the couple to marry despite the ‘primer grado de afinidad‘ (first degree of affinity) that indicates a sibling is involved. The process took about a year. 
What is remarkable is the number of people who had to sign off on the permission, with each stage likely having fees well beyond those for consanguinity on the island. Felipe and Maria Gregoria also had three children, Carmen, Adolfo Sinforiano and Julian Aristides Yturrino Rivera. His last marriage was also in Anasco.
On 12 May 1892 Felipe married for the third and last time, to Francisca Vazquez Ayala.  He had nine children with her: Carlota, Ysabel, Rogelio, Jose Roque, Jesus Maria, Elisa, Maria Carlota, Catalina and Mariana Yturrino Vazquez, born in Barrio Corcobada Rural, Anasco.
Lucidaria Iturrino Rivera married Adolfo Emeterio Babilonia Quinones (1841-1884) about 1868. An educator, agriculturalist, and musician, he was nominated to the post of Inspector General of Public Education for Puerto Rico by Governor La Torre in 1872, a post later given to a Peninsular with the political changes brought by Governor Primo de Rivera. Because of that he fled to the Dominican Republic for a short time and then returned to teaching in San Sebastian and Aguadilla. He died shortly after being notified by the new Governor Marquez de la Vega that he was given the post of Inspector General of Public Education in 1884. 
Adolfo Babilonia and Lucidaria Iturrino had 12 children: Adolfo Melquiades, Enriqueta, Olivia, Urania, Lavinia, Osvaldo, Alfonso, Amelia, Jorge, Viola, Arturo Carmelo and Simon Fidel Babilonia Iturrino. Here are photographs of five of them, taken in the early 20th century. They lived in Anasco, Moca, Isabela, San Sebastian, Arecibo and New York.
As a child, my mother remembered seeing Adolfo Melquiades Babilonia Iturrino astride a white horse, wearing a white linen suit and pith helmet as he went from location to location as Colector de Rentas Internas (Collector of Internal Revenue). Adolfo owned a coffee farm in barrio Cruz, Hacienda Laura, where his grandson, Gaspar Matias Babilonia spent part of his childhood. Osvaldo Babilonia Iturrino became Jefe del Policia Insular, Head of Insular Police; given his uniform, his brother Arturo also served in the Insular Police.
Threading these fragments of details back in time offers some sense of how one Basque emigre came to Puerto Rico, and left generations of descendants. Perhaps more details about them in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will soon come to light. The larger context of this history still has much to provide about the connections to enslavement, politics and education of that era.
 Miren Egana Goya, Presencia de los pescadores vascos en Canada s. XVII. Testimonio de las obras de Samuel de Champlain (1603-1633).
 Brad Lowen, Intertwined Enigmas: Basques and St Lawrence Iroquoians in the Sixteenth Century. C3, 57-75.
 Brad Lowen,”Introduction to the Basque Papers.” Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, 33:1, 2018, 1719-1726, 7-19, 7, 14.
 Manuel Valdes Pizzini, La imperiosa necesidad del bacalao: Puerto Rico y Terranova en la Ecología-Mundo. Relaciones Internacionales, No. 47, Jun-Sep 2021, 163- 179; 171.
 Birgit Sonneson, Vascos en la diaspora: La emigration de La Guaira a Puerto Rico, 1799-1830. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Sevilla, 2008.
 Acta defuncion, Rosalia Beles Camacho, 13 Nov 1804, San Jose de Mayaguez, Libro 2 Defunciones, Folio 136. Rosalía Vélez Camacho, administradora, viuda de Don Antonio Yturrini. Dejó por hijos a Juan, Bentura, José, Antonio, Candelaria y Benita. Oficios de entierro doble en tramo de 8 reales. Email, Iris Santiago, 17 Dec 2007.
 Acta nacimiento, Pedro Juan Yturrino Velez, 17 Jul 1780 [22 Jun 1780] San Jose de Mayaguez, Libro 3 Bautismos, Folio 22v. Email, Iris Santiago, 23 March 2008. “L3B F 22vuelto 17 jul 1780 Pedro Joseph, de 19 días, h.l. Don Antonio Iturrino y Da. Rosalía Vélez. Padrinos: Don Agustín Fernandino y Da. María Felicia de Mathos. “
 Benito Iturrino Velez + Ysidra Morales Crespo, 16 Jan 1814 Anasco. His daughter Eleuteria Iturrino Morales lived to age 103. She died in Barrio Zanja, Camuy in 1928.
 Acta defuncion, Felipe Yturrino Arzua, Registro Civil, Anasco, 17 Marzo 1894. F72-73 #75 Image # 7-8, Historical Records Collection, Puerto Rico, FamilySearch.org
 Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, AGPR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Caja 1434, Escribanos otros funcionarios, 1852-1878, 10 Mar 1864 (Folio no numerado), p.67. The identity of Cristobal Soto in Barrio Plata, Moca remains to be established.
 Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, AGPR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Caja 1434, Escribanos otros funcionarios, 1852-1878, 4 Ago 1864 (Folio no numerado), p. 71.
 “Anasco. Relaciones de las multas que ha impuesto varios Alcaldes en el mes de Noviembre proximo pasado por las causas que a continuacion se expresan.” Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 11 Jan. 1842. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1842-01-11/ed-1/seq-4/>
 Acta de matrimonio, Felipe Yturrino Crespo + Teresa de Jesus Salo Rivera, 22 Jan 1844, Libro 12, Folio 139, Anasco. Email, Wilfredo Quintana, 2008. His mother’s maternal surname appears instead of Arzua.
 Sobre dispensa matrimonial de Sr. Iturrino y Srta. Rivera. 1858-1859. PARES | Spanish Archives ES.28079. AHN/16//ULTRAMAR,2049,Exp.6, September 1858. PARES.mcu.org
 Acta de matrimonio, Felipe Yturrino Crespo + Maria Gregoria Rivera, Libro 12 Folio 217v, Anasco. Email, Wilfredo Quintana, 2008.
 Angel M. San Antonio, Hojas Historicas de Moca. Moca: Emprearte EB, 2004, 160-161.